Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia.

On the commercial brink of lithium sulphur batteries with 4 times the energy

Predict the global spread of dengue with a new tool

Researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, QUT and Queensland Health have developed a new tool to predict the global spread of human infectious diseases, like dengue, and track them to their source. The tool draws on travel data from the International Air Transportation Association and dengue incidence rates from the Global Health Data Exchange

Predict the global spread of dengue with a new tool

Scientists have engineered mosquitoes to be resistant to spreading the devastating Zika virus

Scientists from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and the University of California San Diego have engineered mosquitoes to be resistant to spreading the devastating Zika virus Zika virus caused more than 4000 cases of serious birth defects in 2015 and is still a risk to millions of people. Detailed in a paper published today in PNAS,

Scientists have engineered mosquitoes to be resistant to spreading the devastating Zika virus

Fecal transplants could be effective to treat ulcerative colitis

Poo transplant or “Faecal microbiota transplantation” (FMT) can successfully treat patients with ulcerative colitis, new research from the University of Adelaide shows. The randomised, double-blind study – published in the journal JAMA – was a collaboration between the University of Adelaide, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), CSIRO and CALHN (SA Health). It

Fecal transplants could be effective to treat ulcerative colitis

Bulk hydrogen can be transported in the form of ammonia using existing infrastructure and then reconverted back to hydrogen

Australia is a step closer to a new hydrogen production and export industry following the national science agency’s successful refuelling of two fuel cell vehicles. CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall was one of the first to ride in the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo vehicles powered by ultra-high purity hydrogen, produced in Queensland using CSIRO’s

Bulk hydrogen can be transported in the form of ammonia using existing infrastructure and then reconverted back to hydrogen

Scientists have confirmed the hybridisation of two of the world’s major pest species into a new and concerning mega-pest

One of the pests, the cotton bollworm, is widespread in Africa, Asia and Europe and causes damage to over 100 crops, including corn, cotton, tomato and soybean. The damage and controlling the pest costs billions of dollars a year. It is extremely mobile and has developed resistance to all pesticides used against it. The other

Scientists have confirmed the hybridisation of two of the world’s major pest species into a new and concerning mega-pest

New metal-organic-framework membrane yields both useful water and lithium in quantity

With continual technological advancements in mobile devices and electric cars, the global demand for lithium has quickly outpaced the rate at which it can be mined or recycled, but a University of Texas at Austin professor and his research team may have a solution. Benny Freeman, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering in

New metal-organic-framework membrane yields both useful water and lithium in quantity

Food security just got a little better with a breakthrough in wheat disease

Wheat provides about a fifth of humanity’s food The re-emergence of a rust disease that can kill wheat is threatening food security. A breakthrough has been announced in the prestigious journal Science. Global collaborators include CSIRO, the US Department of Agriculture and Rothamsted Research. It’s like an ongoing arms race – we’ve got to keep

Food security just got a little better with a breakthrough in wheat disease

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Scientists have confirmed the hybridisation of two of the world’s major pest species into a new and concerning mega-pest

Globalisation and increased movement between countries and continents means movement of agricultural pests is becoming more common. Global trade means global pests.

One of the pests, the cotton bollworm, is widespread in Africa, Asia and Europe and causes damage to over 100 crops, including corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

The damage and controlling the pest costs billions of dollars a year.

It is extremely mobile and has developed resistance to all pesticides used against it.

The other pest, the corn earworm, is a native of the Americas and has comparatively limited resistance and host range.

However, the combination of the two, in a novel hybrid with unlimited geographical boundaries is cause for major concern.

The CSIRO researchers in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA provides clear evidence of the hybridisation of the two moths in Brazil.

“A hybrid such as this could go completely undetected should it invade another country. It is critical that we look beyond our own backyard to help fortify Australia’s defense and response to biosecurity threats,” Research Director leading CSIRO’s Biosecurity Risk Evaluation and Preparedness Program Dr Paul De Barro said.

“As Australia’s national science agency, we are constantly looking for new ways to protect the nation and technology like genome sequencing, is helping to tip the scales in our favour.”

While a combination of insecticides currently controls these pests well in Australia, it is important to study the pests themselves for sustainable long-term management world-wide.

The scientists confirmed that among the group of caterpillars studied, every individual was a hybrid.

“No two hybrids were the same suggesting a ‘hybrid swarm’ where multiple versions of different hybrids can be present within one population,” fellow CSIRO Scientist Dr Tom Walsh said.

The bollworm, commonly found in Australia, attacks more crops and develops much more resistance to pesticides than the earworm.

A concerning finding among the Brazilian hybrids was that one was 51 per cent earworm but included a known resistance gene from the bollworm.

Lead author of the paper Dr Craig Anderson, a former CSIRO scientist now based at The University of Edinburgh, believes the hybrid study has wide-ranging implications for the agricultural community across the Americas.

“On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65 per cent of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” Dr Anderson said.

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New metal-organic-framework membrane yields both useful water and lithium in quantity

A scanning electron microscope image of metal-organic frameworks, crystals that can separate lithium from seawater
Credit: CSIRO

With continual technological advancements in mobile devices and electric cars, the global demand for lithium has quickly outpaced the rate at which it can be mined or recycled, but a University of Texas at Austin professor and his research team may have a solution.

Benny Freeman, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, and his colleagues at the Monash University Department of Chemical Engineering and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia have recently discovered a new, efficient way to extract lithium and other metals and minerals from water. They published their findings in the Feb. 9 issue of Science Advances.

The team’s technique uses a metal-organic-framework membrane that mimics the filtering function, or “ion selectivity,” of biological cell membranes. The membrane process easily and efficiently separates metal ions, opening the door to revolutionary technologies in the water and mining industries and potential economic growth opportunities in Texas.

The Barnett and Eagle Ford shale formations in Texas contain high amounts lithium, and the produced wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing in those areas has high concentrations of lithium. Instead of discarding the produced water, the team’s membrane filter could extract the resulting lithium and put it to use in other industries.

“Produced water from shale gas fields in Texas is rich in lithium. Advanced separation materials concepts such as ours could potentially turn this waste stream into a resource recovery opportunity,” Freeman said.

Each well in the Barnett and Eagle Ford can generate up to 300,000 gallons of produced water per week. Using their new process, Freeman and his team conservatively estimate that from just one week’s worth of produced water, enough lithium can be recovered to power 200 electric cars or 1.6 million smartphones.

In addition, the team’s process could help with water desalination. Unlike the existing reverse-osmosis membranes responsible for more than half of the world’s current water desalination capacity, the new membrane process dehydrates ions as they pass through the membrane channels and removes only select ions, rather than indiscriminately removing all ions. The result is a process that costs less and consumes less energy than conventional methods.

The team’s material operates on principles inspired by highly effective biological cell membranes, whose mechanism of operation was discovered by Roderick MacKinnon and Peter Agre and was the subject of the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

“The prospect of using metal-organic frameworks for sustainable water filtration is incredibly exciting from a public-good perspective, while delivering a better way of extracting lithium ions to meet global demand could create new industries,” said Anita Hill, CSIRO’s chief scientist.

Learn more: New Lithium Collection Method Could Boost Global Supply

 

 

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Food security just got a little better with a breakthrough in wheat disease

Professor Robert Park inspecting wheat.

Wheat provides about a fifth of humanity’s food
The re-emergence of a rust disease that can kill wheat is threatening food security. A breakthrough has been announced in the prestigious journal Science. Global collaborators include CSIRO, the US Department of Agriculture and Rothamsted Research.

It’s like an ongoing arms race – we’ve got to keep one step ahead of this changing pathogen

Professor Robert Park
  • Rust pathogens devastating crops in Africa, making a comeback in Europe
  • Scientists have isolated the very first rust pathogen gene that wheat plants detect to ‘switch on’ resistance.

In a world first, science has leaped a step ahead of an old foe that has recently re-emerged in some parts of the world, where it has devastated crops because of its ability to evolve, undoing much of the hard work that began in earnest with the Green Revolution – using natural techniques to isolate the first rust pathogen gene that wheat plants detect and use to ‘switch on’ in-built resistance.

The breakthrough in research targeting the stem rust foe – historically the most dangerous pathogen of wheat – will mean suspect samples could be analysed within hours in an emergency rather than weeks, potentially saving crops from being destroyed.

“For the first time it will be possible to do DNA testing to identify whether a rust in a wheat crop anywhere in the world can overcome a rust-resistance gene, called Sr50, which is being introduced in high-yielding wheat varieties,” said Professor Robert Park, corresponding author from the University of Sydney.

“This will indicate whether or not a given wheat crop needs to be sprayed with expensive fungicide quickly to protect against rust – which would otherwise devastate the crop in a matter of weeks.”

Rust disease epidemics have emerged at times in tandem with carefully refined selective breeding in cereals; the disease is once again extremely damaging in East Africa and is making a comeback in Europe.

The new findings are being published in one of the world’s leading journals, Science.

PhD candidate and lead author from the University of Sydney Mr Jiapeng Chen, who sequenced and analysed the genome of a virulent rust isolate, said this was the first important step in addressing the diagnostic challenges posed by ever-changing fungi, which result in new rust pathogen strains.

Professor Park explained: “It’s like an ongoing arms race – we’ve got to keep one step ahead of this changing pathogen.

“The last major epidemic of wheat stem rust in Australia alone, in 1973, caused $AU300 million in damage – imagine what that would be today.”

Co-corresponding author, Dr Peter Dodds from the Commonweatlh Scientific Industrial Research Organisation, said demand for wheat in the developing world was expected to jump 60 percent by 2050 and in economic terms alone the ramifications were huge.

“Now that we’ve identified how stem rust strains are able to overcome Sr50 resistance – by mutation of a gene we’ve identified called AvrSr50 – this information can be used to help prioritise resistance genes for deployment.

“Our results so far show the plant immune system is able directly to recognise the fungal protein, said Dr Peter Dodds, from CSIRO’s Agriculture and Food team. “We are gaining a better understanding of the whole process – what’s going on at the protein level, at the gene level.”

Co-author Dr Kostya Kanyuka from Rothamsted Research, an agricultural science centre in the United Kingdom, said stem rust had been making a comeback in Europe, for example in Sweden as recently as this year, and was threatening Asia and the US.

“The highly virulent Ug99 race of the stem rust fungus – which emerged in 1998 in Uganda – has become even more potent as it has spread through Africa and the Middle East, with winds threatening to carry it into Asia,” Dr Kanyuka said.

US collaborators Professor Melania Figueroa, Professor Brian Steffenson and Dr Yue Jin were able to extend the results of the study by examining strains of the stem rust pathogen from other parts of the world, including the US and Africa.

“It is important to look at this gene in worldwide rust strains to gain a picture of where virulence is most likely to evolve,” Professor Figueroa said.

Professor Park, from the Plant Breeding Institute, part of the University’s Sydney Institute of Agriculture and School of Life and Environmental Sciences, said the results should also lead to a better understanding of how rust pathogens infect wheat, evading detection by the wheat plant, and causing yield losses.

“In addition to the immediate practical benefit regarding the important rust-resistance gene Sr50, our world-first finding could potentially have a longer-term payoff in the 10-15-year horizon,” he said.

A key element of the research was carried out by Mr Chen who initiated the work, partially funded by the University of Sydney through the affiliated Judith and David Coffey Life Laboratory in the Charles Perkins Centre.

The paper, “Loss of AvrSr50 by somatic exchange in stem rust leads to virulence for Sr50 resistance in wheat”, will publish on 23 December online in Science.

CSIRO animation of how rust attacks plants

Learn more: Wheat disease breakthrough to help feed the world

The Latest on: Wheat stem rust
  • Ug99 wheat rust’s origin may hold keys to its control
    on January 2, 2020 at 11:23 am

    “The Ug99 strain of the stem rust pathogen was widely virulent on wheat; thus, we were highly interested in what set this strain apart from others,” said Brian Steffenson, professor of cereal disease ...

  • Wheat Rust Diseases Global Programme 2014–2017
    on December 29, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    During the past decade a number of virulent strains of wheat rust diseases have emerged, causing global concerns to wheat production. The wheat stem rust race Ug99 ... launched the Wheat Rust Diseases ...

  • Deadliest wheat stem rust origin revealed
    on December 4, 2019 at 5:24 am

    Australian, American and South African researchers have discovered the origins of the deadliest strain of wheat stem rust. The disease is one of the most dangerous, threatening global food security.

  • Barberry war: Why the USDA spent more than 50 years trying to eradicate this thorny bush in Minnesota
    on December 2, 2019 at 6:57 am

    The common barberry bush was a problem because it is a secondary host for the fungus that causes stem-rust disease, the most devastating disease of wheat. Minnesota played the central role in the ...

  • Scientists discover origins of world’s deadliest strain of cereal rust disease
    on November 11, 2019 at 4:30 am

    Their works shows that the devastating Ug99 strain of the wheat stem rust fungus (named for its discovery and naming in Uganda in 1999) was created when different rust strains simply fused to create a ...

  • CSIRO uncovers ‘threatening’ strain of cereal rust disease
    on November 8, 2019 at 3:54 am

    Findings show that the “devastating” Ug99 strain of the wheat stem rust fungus was created when different rust strains fused to create a new hybrid strain. CSIRO indicated the process enabled the ...

  • Research brief: Origin of deadly wheat pathogen revealed
    on November 7, 2019 at 10:37 am

    MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (11/07/19) -- Stem rust is a devastating wheat disease that has caused famines and undermined economies around the world for centuries. One particular strain of the stem rust ...

  • Cereal killer's deadly touch could lead to new wheat threat
    on November 7, 2019 at 6:28 am

    Their works shows that the devastating Ug99 strain of the wheat stem rust fungus (named for its discovery and naming in Uganda in 1999) was created when different rust strains simply fused to create a ...

  • Origin of deadly wheat pathogen revealed
    on November 6, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    A team of researchers has uncovered the basis of stem rust pathogen Ug99's wide virulence, attacking a direct threat to the world wheat supply. One particular strain of the stem rust fungus, dubbed ...

  • Farming 101: Planting Wheat
    on August 17, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    He urges caution if selecting a stem rust susceptible variety. Stem rust is a devastating wheat disease once thought to be eradicated or of little consequence. In recent years, several high-yielding ...

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A new high-amylose wheat has ten times the amount of fibre

Regina Ahmed
via CSIRO

A new type of wheat that has ten times the amount of the fibre which helps improve gut health and also fights bowel cancer and Type 2 diabetes than normal wheat has been developed by an international team including CSIRO.

The new wheat could provide millions of people with a lot more fibre without having to change their eating habits.

In the American States of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, a small number of farmers have just harvested the first US crop of the wheat, which is high in amylose.

The wheat will be processed into flour and incorporated into a range of food products that Americans can expect to see appearing on their supermarket shelves in coming years.

Dr Ahmed Regina, a principal research scientist at CSIRO, said products made from high-amylose wheat contained more than ten times the resistant starch, a type of dietary fibre, than those made from regular wheat.

“Largely lacking in Western diets, resistant starch is known to improve digestive health, protect against the genetic damage that precedes bowel cancer and help combat Type 2 diabetes,” Dr Ahmed Regina said.

“Wheat is the most popular source of dietary fibre and eaten by 30 per cent of the world’s population, whether it’s in bread, pizzas, pastas or tortillas.

“Having a wheat with high levels of resistant starch enables people to get this important fibre without changing the type of grain they eat or the amount of grain-based foods they need for recommended dietary levels.”

The team responsible for developing the new type of wheat are hopeful an Australian-based company will capitalise on the opportunity to market it locally.

The wheat is a result of a collaboration which started in 2006 between CSIRO, and French company Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients, and the Grains Research and Development Corporation on developing wheat varieties with a higher content of resistant starch.

Together they spun out a company called Arista Cereal Technologies.

A breakthrough came when they identified two particular enzymes, that when reduced in wheat, increased the amylose content.

“From there, we used a conventional breeding approach, not GM techniques, and managed to increase the amylose content of wheat grain from around 20 or 30 per cent to an unprecedented 85 per cent,” Dr Ahmed Regina said.

“This was sufficient to increase the level of resistant starch to more than 20 per cent of total starch in the grain compared to less than one per cent in regular wheat.”

US-based, Bay State Milling Company was the first company to take this technology to the market through a licensing arrangement with Arista.

This year they contracted farmers to grow about 400 hectares of the wheat, which will be marketed as HealthSense high fiber wheat flour.

“We are very excited to launch HealthSense in the US and change the way Americans think about wheat,” Bay State Milling CEO Peter Levangie said.

“HealthSense will deliver flour functionality to our customers and fibre benefits to consumers, enabling better human health through the foods they love to eat.”

In Australia, Arista is partnering with a breeding company to develop high-amylose wheat varieties suitable for different regions.

They are working on producing enough grain for product testing and seeds for initial commercialisation.

Lindsay Adler from CSIRO and an Arista Director, said the company was keen to find an Australian licensee who would develop a new product for local and possibly also Asian markets.

“This is an opportunity ripe for the picking, with customers across the world increasingly demanding foods with improved health benefits,” Mr Adler said.

CSIRO has developed other novel grains that commercial partners have taken to market, including the ultra-low gluten barley, Kebari and BARLEYmax, a barley with high levels of resistant starch.

Learn more: Wheat a kick in the guts for fighting diseases

 

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